The best goals are SMART ones

It honestly is the best way to actually achieve what you’re setting out to do.

Dart flying towards dart board. Photo:

Setting goals is something everyone does at some point, or at least we’re told to do so. But it can be daunting and disheartening if you can’t measure your progress. I used to find that when I set goals, I never knew how to accomplish them or how to develop a worthwhile goal. For example, going to graduate school is my goal, but it’s not clear how I will achieve this and what steps are involved.

Goal setting can be done on any scale ranging from what you want to do in a day versus a 5-year plan. Using the SMART acronym to set goals can be helpful to create achievable ones and actually be successful at following through on them.


S = specific

It’s vital that you outline exactly what your goal is when you set it. For example, “I want to do well in my class” changes to, “I want an A in my class.” It tells me exactly what I want in this class, and I know that I’ve reached my goal if I get that particular grade. The more specific the goal, the easier it will be to plan how to achieve it.


M = measurable

Making a goal measurable allows you to track your progress. If you’ve put time into making the goal, it’s essential to know if you’re achieving it. When thinking about making a goal measurable, ask yourself, “how do I know when I’ve reached my goal?” For example, if my goal is to become fitter physically, I would know I’ve reached my goal when I can run a 5k in 30 minutes. This will provide me with something to track my progress.


A = attainable

This is about making the goal realistic. A plan is something that you want to and can actually achieve. Sometimes if I’m struggling to get motivated, I start by setting small, very attainable goals to boost my confidence. It’s disheartening to have a goal that I can’t reach, such as improving my GPA by one point in a semester. This isn’t realistic, and even if I’m successful in raising my GPA, I’d be upset if I compared it to this goal. Instead, I should set an attainable goal like improving my GPA by 0.5, which can be reached by getting As and A+s.


R = relevant

Our time is precious and we want to spend it doing worthwhile activities. Ensuring a goal is suitable stops time from being wasted. Questions to ask yourself are, “is this worthwhile?” and “do I have the time and capacity (e.g. mentally, physically, and finically) to work for this goal right now?” For example, improving my GPA is worthwhile because I’d like to go to graduate school, and now is the right time to start working on my GPA because I’m graduating soon.


T = time-bound

Including a timeframe and end date helps keep you on track and check in with yourself. For me, this is the best part of “setting SMART goals” because there’s an end in sight and something to work towards. For example, to achieve my goal of going to graduate school, I will pick the schools to apply to by Friday.

When I think about my SMART goals, I commit to them while allowing myself grace and flexibility. Setting SMART goals are meant to help you be successful, not to be discouraging. I hope this helps you achieve your goals!

“Setting SMART goals” is a coping strategy taught in The Inquiring Mind Post-Secondary program. Find out upcoming workshops here.


Dalhousie's Stay Connected Mental Health Peer Support workers are here to support the Dalhousie community, and have our own personal experiences with mental health, allowing us to identify, relate to, and support other students. Find more info about how to connect with us here.